Monday, July 31, 2006

I feel poopy

Long weekend. Daggone.

Friday afternoon culminated with a Foley/Edwards family dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Hanover Co. I've never been to a Mexican restaurant that didn't take your order with 5 minutes, and yet this place took well over an hour, forgot my drink several times, and was poorly air-conditioned. The food was good, and the company better, but we didn't get home until almost 9pm, and Alastair was not amused at being kept up almost 2 hours past his bed-time.

Amazingly, he slept very well for being so sweaty and tired.

Saturday, we went to the Vegetarian Festival in Bryan Park. It was about 95-degrees the whole time we were there, and we spent about 90 minutes wandering around, eating falafel sandwiches, and sucking down virgin pina coladas. Once again, Alastair was terribly sweaty and not very entertained by the heat. He slept like a champ when we got back, and then we headed off to the Foley/Edwards cook-out.

Again we found ourselves outside in the heat, only this time it was for closer to 4 hours. We got him home about an hour after his bed-time, and again, amazingly, he conked right out. I love that boy.

Sunday, I got up and did a couple of hours worth of yard work, mowing, weeding, and spraying chemicals. I then came in, showered, ate, and headed off to a MINI tech/day cook-out. I spent another couple of hours there installing Christian's sway-bar, and then some additional time standing around talking about cars.

I tried to drink as much water as I could, but I've had a dehydration headache ever since I drank one beer on Friday night. Last night I developed a low-grade fever, which happens to me sometimes after too much time in the heat. I went to bed unable to get comfortable, and still have that headache this morning. Blah.

And because Grant didn't ask...

You've trophied twice in Novice, and run 4 times over-all in Novice. You're finished with Novice Class, sir! VMSC rules don't allow you to run in Novice after your second win. Time to step up and run in ES, or go crazy with the car and run in STS2 or CSP!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Because Grant asked...

I installed the Spec Miata suspension last week, with a ton of help from Mr. Chris Kimmelshue, so I'm competing in CSP now.

I did get the car aligned before hitting the track, and here's what I had 'em do:

Caster: ~ +5 degrees left & right
Camber: ~ -2 degrees at all 4 corners
Toe: 0 degrees at all 4 corners
Ride Height: ~ 5.25" (pinch-weld to ground) at all 4 corners

This will probably not be an ideal setup for autocross, but it stuck to the track like glue (except for a couple of times, but that was due to the tires).

The car has not been corner balanced, but that seems like a waste of money, since a lot of stuff still needs to be removed (and other stuff added).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I'm an idiot

So I ordered a "harness bar" for the Miata a couple of weeks ago. The next day, I contacted the manufacturer and asked that they cancel the order; instead, they rushed it right out. Great.

Yesterday, since Wife and Boy were out, I took a shot at installing it. The instructions indicated that I should remove 2 bolts from my roll-bar, remove the spacers beneath them, and replace them with the new harness bar and shorter spacers. Only the new spacers are way too short, and the bar sits so close to the built-in harness bar that it gains me nothing.

Now the kicker is that I had to pry those 2 spacers out, and one of them took an 18" breaker-bar and every bit of my physical strength to remove. And it ain't going back in without disassembling one side of the roll-bar. So, in an attempt to install something I knew I didn't need (and couldn't return), I've created an hour's worth of work that must be performed before I next try to drive the car.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Brreaayyyywywwwwwwooooooouuuuuggghhh.......... *pant* *pant* *pant*

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Numerology and Me; a Historical Review of the Number 22 in My Life

Amanda brought up an interesting point the other night: that I had registered for next weekend's autocross as number 22 for Alastair (his birthday being January 22). I hadn't even considered that, since 22 was my number in soccer for years. But it got me thinking...

22 - The first 2 digits of my SSN.
22 - The last 2 digits of my student ID in the Richmond Public Schools
22 - My rec' league soccer number
22 - My high school soccer number
22 - The day of my wife's birth in April 1975
22 - The day of my son's birth in January 2006
22 - Amanda and I were this age when we moved in together
22 - The number I've always chosen for any competitive event

Interesting. Probably irrelevant, but interesting nonetheless.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Interesting weekend. Interesting indeed.

Saturday afternoon, about 5pm, we packed the Miata (and I mean packed: there was NO extra trunk space), climbed in, and took a very noisy and bumpy drive to Alton, VA, on the NC border, just between South Boston and Danville.

We learned something about Google maps on the way: they've become useless. The visual portion of the map no longer prints, and you're left with text directions, portions of which were redundant, and portions of which were just plain wrong. We got lost shortly outside South Boston, where the roads on our Google map simply didn't exist. We got lucky and saw a car up ahead that looked fast, so we followed it. It turned out to be a Ferrari 575M, so we knew we were headed in the right direction.

We then had a devil of a time finding our room. We were told it was on the North Paddock, but the only buildings on the North Paddock are the press building, the Pagoda Restaurant, and the garages. We saw a hotel overlooking turns 6 & 7, so we drove over there, only to discover the room numbers did not correspond at all to what we had. So we drove back up to the paddock, whereupon we were told that our rooms were over the garages, directly overlooking the north straight. The only way you'd know the rooms were there is if somebody told you.

The room itself was nice: 2 queen-size murphy beds, a nice bathroom, a bar with a fridge and microwave, and a flat-screen wall-mounted TV. Nice, and quiet, too, so long as nobody was on the track.

We went to the party, hung out with the Kimmelshues, got soaked by the enormous deluge that came out of nowhere, and were informed that the weekend was a rather somber one: evidently one of the members passed away on Friday afternoon. He wasn't driving, he was getting ready for dinner when he had a massive heart attack. He was a long-standing member who came to almost every event, and his Challenge Ferrari was still parked in the paddock on Saturday. Creepy. Then we heard that a Dodge Viper SRT10 lost his brakes and went airborne before smacking a wall of dirt, requiring 2 tow trucks and an hour of red-flag conditions. Evidently a Porsche also blew a radiator hose at some point, spraying coolant onto the track.

So everybody was hoping that Sunday would be different. It wasn't.

I got up early and did some minor brake tweaking, which made a world of difference, and then got a ride in Chris's M3. Wow, that thing is fast (and nowhere near the top of its game, given the wetness of the track). After that, it was back to the room to finish packing, and then off to my first run.

Only I spent too much time packing, and missed the beginning of my run. I got out there about 5 minutes into the session. I was excited because I got right behind a group of 3 Porsches, but my excitement didn't last, because they were really being gentle on those cars (one of them was a GT3 Cup car; no reason to treat it gently). We were taking the climbing S'es at about 60, and the turn into Oak Tree was a bottle-neck of about 12 cars going less than 20mph. On the 2nd lap, there were caution flags for a blue convertible M3 that had left the track in the same place as the Viper, and then a Spec Miata went into the infield off the back straight. A couple laps later, a stock car's hood flipped over and smashed its windshield in the braking zone before turn 1, and we got black flagged.

The session was over, and I got about 4 slow laps out of it.

On my 2nd session, I had a passenger: Amanda rode with me. Nobody was being passive on this one; I had a Porsche occupying all 3 mirrors, and we were taking the climbing S'es at closer to 80 (still a bit slow, but much more entertaining than 60), and I really got to see what the pro-line does for Roller Coaster.

But I had a problem in my 2nd session. I bought driving shoes a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to put them on for the first session. I scrambled to get them on in time for the second run, and almost immediately discovered that they weren't wide enough to heel-toe in the Miata. The Miata isn't really big enough to do a proper heel-toe, and I've only learned the technique where you use the side of the foot, not the heel. So I was having to brake, then blip, shift, and back on the brakes. It was bad, but not uncontrollable. I couldn't get away from the Porsche, but I wasn't exactly a slouch, either.

But my nerves were getting worse, and sections of the track that are difficult for me were compounded by the problem. One of those is Hog Pen. After taking the pro line through Roller Coaster, I come to the first pointer cone (left) at the very top of 2nd gear (about 59mph), shift, and roar up to about 80 before backing off, turning in to the left, braking hard, downshifting, and powering out onto the front straight. When done properly, I spend only about 2 seconds in 2nd gear entering Hog Pen, but I either missed the brake pedal or thought I would, so I came in hot, downshifted, and the back end stepped out. I tried to countersteer, but when we were looking straight at the wall (about 15 feet away), I put both feet in. Forward motion stopped about 5 or 6 feet from the wall, and we slid sideways to a stop on the clay.

I think I entered the turn at about 65, which is backed up by the video (it shows the shift-light and max-G lights on my G-Tech blinking like crazy), and the tires, though sticky, were starting to show signs of greasiness. We pitted, explained the situation, got a quick once-over, and went back out.

And there was no traffic to be seen anywhere. I flogged the crap out of that car for about 4 or 5 laps before the session was over, and it was intense. Without a car in front of you, it's tough to judge your speed and capabilities, but I think I was really getting a handle on the car during those last laps.

Unfortunately, the tires were packing it in, and in the 3rd session, right behind the pace car, I lost the line after a little wobble in the car told me we wouldn't complete Roller Coaster, and using a huge misjudgement as an opportunity for a straight-line braking zone, we came into the top of Hog Pen completely unstable, and the car stepped out again. I caught it this time, and Amanda expressed her displeasure. A couple of laps later, with only fumes in the gas tank, the tires finally failed, and we locked up the entire rear of the car and slid through the braking zone at turn 1, barely keeping the car on the track.

That was it; our day was over. I pitted, put a couple of gallons of gas in the car, packed up, and we came home.

So I had a great time, but I learned the limits of my car in its current configuration. While my tires are Max Performance Summer tires, they're not race tires, and they bit us. Watching the tape, I saw that I was way off the line several times in that 3rd session, and every time it was because the car was feeling unstable, like the tires just had no grip left. At one point I almost slid off the top of Roller Coaster, which is unconscionable. Amanda said I seemed tired, and I think she was right. But was I tired from fighting the car, or just tired from driving? Hmmmm...

It might be time to look for some "gently used" Toyo Proxes RA-1's.

I can't wait to go back.

Off the Wagon (written on Friday)

A few months ago, I stopped drinking coffee. Heck, I stopped liking it at all. I thought that maybe I'd never really liked the stuff, but that I had convinced myself otherwise in an effort to be more cosmopolitan.

I had really never liked coffee before my '97 tour of Europe. I always loved the smell, but the mixture of having experienced coffee breath on others (Joe Butler always drank a pot of nastiness and smoked about 3 cigarettes before coming to my desk and talking to me) and having tasted weak blends turned me off. In Paris, however, I figured that I'd do as the Parisians and try some espresso. I don't really remember if I actually liked it, but it didn't offend me, and I found that drinking 3 stiff beers and an espresso made me feel high (legally), and the feeling would last an hour or so.

I came back to the States and didn't think a thing of coffee until one night when Amanda and I went out for drinks at Avalon. She ordered a cup, and before she could get to it, I reached over and took a sip. She was flabbergasted, since I'd always made scornful faces and icky noises when she drank coffee.

Later, when we moved in together, I started having the occasional morning cup. Then occasionally became daily, and daily sometimes became twice a day. I started with black coffee, then began (over time) adding milk and sugar.

In 2000, I had a spell of about a month where I was drinking cream that had gone bad. I figured I had lost the taste for coffee, so I stopped drinking it for a while. The headaches were unbearable, so I went back to drinking it black. That worked until some time in 2005, when I decided that I needed to kick the caffeine addiction.

I switched to tea, since most teas have about 50% the caffeine level of coffee, and was set. The few times I did drink a cup of coffee, I found the taste revolting, as if I'd never actually liked it in the first place. I couldn't figure out how I'd become addicted to something so awful.

I never quite made it to breaking the caffeine habit, but I've stuck with my morning cup of tea for almost a year now. But recently, I've been drawn back to coffee, and now I've made things worse by having coffee almost every day, in addition to the tea. I get drowsy if I don't have my double-dose, and I'm loving the taste again.

There's just something about flavored coffees that just has me really happy right now, bladder be damned.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

An Indictment of Modern-Day Politics -or- I am not a Republican

I am a conservative.

What the hell does that mean, and why am I wasting time this morning on it?

It means that I, in general, believe that Government's (big G) role is to provide a framework of basic laws to protect the rights of man, while acting as a nation's aggregate defense against and diplomat to other nations.

I believe it is the responsibility of multiple governments to create the minimal amount of laws necessary to ensure that people live in relative peace, but are free to pursue their own goals, and that municipalities, like businesses, should be free to create whatever laws are mandated by their local constituencies. This, in turn, creates competition (for tax dollars), and gives the individual the right to choose the laws under which he / she shall live.

I believe that the People (big P) should elect their local representation, and their representation in the Congress of each level of government under which they live, but that the government itself should choose or appoint representatives with similar authority to represent the needs not seen by the common man. This was originally provided in the Constitution, but subsequent Amendments changed the way we put people into office.

I believe that the US Constitution is a perfect document. It is NOT a living document, subject to re-interpretation, editing, redacting, or writing off as "old-fashioned". The Constitution provided a very basic framework under which the federal government oversaw international relations and free trade between states. It acted solely as an arbiter, never as a moral authority, never as a benevolence association. And the federal government had very little say in the average person's day-to-day activities.

And yet that seems to be the "old-fashioned" idea. I've harped on it before, but our federal government seems to have more direct involvement with our lives than any of our local or state laws. Most people have no idea who their local councilmen are, little idea of who represents them at the state level, and yet a strangely overdeveloped notion of who their US senators are. We all know who the president is, along with probably at least half of his cabinet, but to what end?

You might have voted for all of these people, but when you get right down to it, the government level at which you can affect the most change is most likely alien to you. In days of yore, the taxpayer paid the municipality. The municipality was then responsible for remunerating the state, which, in turn, paid the federal government. The idea was simple: you wrote one check, and everyone got paid. If you had a beef with your local government, you withheld payment and got a bunch of other folks to do so, too. Your voice was heard, and you effected change.

Now, when you pay taxes, you have no clue what happens to your money. You pay federal taxes directly to the IRS, which then gives a big chunk of that money right back to the states in building and road programs. The money you give to the state goes to places unknown, but a large percentage of that pays your local taxes. Strange, but true. Consider the car tax: when it was first implemented, it was a way for localities to collect taxes. Then the state took control of your car tax, and paid something like 90% of the revenue back to the locality. Then the state decided to abolish the car tax (as a state tax), but continued paying 90% of the originally projected revenue back to the localities, with the plan to eventually phase that remuneration out. The localities complained, and rather than levying their own local car taxes, they got the state car tax re-instated. The funny thing is, you've always paid your car tax directly to the locality, never to the state. WTF?

Ok, back on target: government != moral authority. In general, I support the Republican party. Their beliefs do not always coincide with mine, but from the general perspective of minimal government, they're the best fit for me. And I've been a strong supporter of George Bush through his first 5 years of office, but I'm getting tired of him.

At first it was just little annoyances, like the gay marriage amendment. I have a lot of gay friends, and at first I thought I agreed with the notion that benefits would be very tricky to ensure if marriage were completely unrestricted. But then I heard that there are no federal laws that define marriage in any way (although a lot of federal laws depend on there being at least some basic definition of marriage), and I realized (completely unrelated) that there's no reason to deny people the opportunity to pledge love to each other.

So that started to piss me off. Why do we need this as a constitutional amendment? And why was he campaigning so hard for it to be a constitutional amendment? Remember: I believe the Constitution is a perfect document. And that brought us to flag burning, which, though annoying, is protected as a form of expression by the First Amendment. Attempting to deny this First Amendment right is a violation of the 9th Amendment.

And, intermingled in all of this, we get the stem cell debate. Why is this a debate? In principal, I agree that it's terrible to destroy life, but I'm not of the opinion that a government that allows abortions up to the 2nd trimester is in any position to moralize on EMBRYOs. Now, I'm not anti-abortion, but it's still a tough pill to swallow: "You can kill that fetus if you don't want it, but you can't dedicate an embryo to helping cure disease."

All of these are examples of George Bush reaching into our homes and dictating our behavior, and all for a few votes that he personally doesn't need. I think he's lost his compass. I liked him better when he was dealing with international issues, and allowing the country to take care of itself. People hated him for it, but I respected it. Why did he need to be personally involved in Katrina? It's not like some terrorist organization or foreign government caused the devastation, so why does the president need to be involved? It made no sense, but the public wanted to hang him for his aloof treatment of the hurricane.

I loved his response to China when our spy plane was captured in 2001. I was deeply impressed by our swift actions to remove the Taliban from power, and had no moral compunction with our invasion of Iraq. I think a strong-arm approach is sometimes necessary with Europe, and Russia is truly regressing. Our efforts to help with the Kursk, our awesome pull with Khadafi, and our pressure on both Iran and North Korea are to be lauded. But every time I hear him talk about something on American soil, I get angry.

But I can't place all the blame on George Bush, nor would I want to. I impeach us, as the citizens of this country, for imbuing the office of the President with supreme legislative power, for ignoring our responsibility to our local governments, for putting too much faith in our Senators (who, incidentally, were originally appointed by the states to represent state governments), instead of our congressmen, and for demanding a moralizing government.

We live in a welfare state, with social security, medicare, medicaid, and a bevy of other programs where we rely on the federal government to fund our ventures. We no longer need to fend for ourselves to be successful, but in exchange, we allow the NEA, the Department of Education, and countless other federal agencies to place restrictions on our daily lives, and our collective response to their quest for more power is to give it to them, robbing and marginalizing our local representation.

Our voices are no longer heard, and we have elected a king.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Beeboo rode a pony!

This was a good weekend. Amanda's last day of work was Friday, and her parents came over to put Boy to bed so that we could go and celebrate her liberation (incidentally, her blog-post on Friday was the best she's ever written). We celebrated with the Cronins and our friends Chris & Terry by having a nice dinner at Capital Ale House. We drank too much beer, ate way too many french fries, and came home to a wonderfully quiet house. A good time, all around.

Saturday was hot. Real hot. So what did we do? We took the boy to my mom's farm. Smart.

We got there at about 2:30pm, and Mom greeted us at the door looking quite different from the last time I'd seen her. She had cut her hair very very short (about an inch longer than mine, which is only 1/4"), was wearing shorts, knee-socks, slides, and a yellow sleeveless button-up shirt. It was very disconcerting, as she looked more like my grandmother than I'd ever seen before, but like a slightly crazy version of my grandmother. I was worried, but I kept my mouth shut.

We sat inside for a few minutes, looked at the fish in the aquarium, and then proceeded out into the heat.

First stop was the rooster. He came toward us and started calling out, which fascinated Alastair. He was craning around, trying to find the source of the sound, and when he saw the rooster ("Chicken Little"), he got really excited. Then we saw a baby farm-kitty, which failed to impress him, since he gets to stay inside all day in the A/C and see kitties.

So we went and looked at the horses that were gathered together in the run-in shed. As excited as he was about them, I think they were actually more interested in him. One poked its head over the fence and got really close to Beeboo. He breathed several times on Boy, and Alastair reached out and very gently petted the horse's nose. It was so adorable. He was just smiling and reaching and thought horses were the coolest things ever.

Mom wanted to introduce him to some of her more special horses & ponies, so we wandered into the sweltering barn. Boy met a few more horses before Mom pulled out Snowball, a mid-sized pony, for Boy to ride. We put him on Snowball's back, and he got to ride the pony from one end of the barn to the other. Amanda snapped a few pics, but I was too busy holding him and making sure my feet didn't get crushed to enjoy his experience. She and Mom said he just grinned and gushed the whole time, and he showed natural form for riding by grabbing firmly onto the pony's mane.

After his first ride, we went and met a baby colt, his mommy, and the stallion. The stallion was whinnying like crazy, which fascinated (but did not gratify) the boy. Then we wandered back to look at all the run-in horses, saw the rooster again, looked at some baby turkeys, and retired back into the comfort of the A/C.

It was a good time, and Alastair slept almost the entire rest of the day, but something about Mom's appearance just deeply unsettled me. There were huge cob-webs hanging from the ceiling, there was nothing on the walls except for holes where pictures had been, and the bathroom looked like it had been utterly ignored for the past several years, with disgusting discoloration in the toilet bowl, mold growing on the bottom of the broken toilet-seat, and NO SOAP at the sink.

Spartan ain't the word. I think depression might be.

But anyway, Alastair got his first experience with farm animals, and he got to see his grandmommy, too. It was a great time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Zinedine Zidane and the Cup that wasn't

Much has been made over the now-infamous head-butt in extra time of the World Cup finals, so I won't dwell on it. I'm just going to give it a good old-fashioned "WTF" and move on. France lost; Italy won. No single goal was scored by an opponent on Italy during regular play in the entire cup. That's impressive, even if I don't like them as a team.

I'm holding out for Germany in 2010.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Who doesn't love a parade?

Yesterday in Irvington, VA, Alastair saw his first parade. He was mesmerized. Or maybe it was the heat.

Our J4 weekend started out decently enough: Amanda and her mother went shopping on Saturday, leaving me alone to work on the rollbar in the Miata. I spent about 4 or 5 hours on it before they returned, and I got it mostly installed.

On Sunday, she took the boy to church so that I could mow the yard(s) and resume work on the rollbar. I got it finished Sunday night, and on Monday morning we took our sick little boy to the doctor. He's on his 3rd cold in the last 7 weeks (damned daycare), and we were given approval to administer decongestants (they work great!).

Later in the day, we got the car packed and headed down to Irvington. We took his new portable bed, which he loved, and spent a lovely evening with dad & Randy. Much time was spent in the back yard of the neighbor's house, enjoying beer, port and discourse.

The morning of July 4 gave every indication of they day's potential heat. It was oppressive at 8:30, and only got worse. Shana and Chad drove in from West Point, and we all headed out at 11am to watch the parade. Amanda spread a blanket for Alastair, and I tried desperately (and without success) to get documentation of the event. First my video camera's battery completely failed, and then my digital camera was taking up to a full second to actually take the pictures, so I got a lot of blurry pictures of the grass.

Anyway, Alastair had been leaning back against Amanda, but when the neat old cars started going by, he sat up straight and watched transfixed. The horses were particularly exciting for him, as were the fire trucks.

The parade was over by 11:30, and so was boy. We took him in for a nap, and he slept for 2 hours. He was beat. Then we took him out to the picnic, which was in the same neighbor's back yard. They had tents, lots of seating, tons of water (& beer), food, and a large pig in a smoker.

A lot of dad's friends came down from Richmond, and Amanda even got offered an appearance with Alastair in a commercial! We had a great time, watched part of the tragic Germany v. Italy game, hung out with Shana & Chad, and wore the boy out completely. Last night, he only cried for about 5 or 10 minutes before going to sleep.

It was a good weekend, with the exception of Germany's puzzling loss to Italy. Boo!